Early spring in the North Platte River Valley reveals the body of an elk calf with legs entangled in a wire fence meant to keep cattle in but which proved deadly to this ungulate. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

As the snowpack recedes in Wyoming, it reveals the dead.

Wildlife can die from a number of causes in winter, from starvation to cold. This photograph of what appears to be an elk calf carcass in the North Platte River Valley captured a man-made mortal threat to wildlife — entanglement in a wire fence meant to control cattle.

Data on how many wild ungulates die when attempting to cross Wyoming fences is difficult to find. A 2006 study from the University of Utah looked at wildlife mortality along 600 miles of fence in Utah and Colorado. Researchers estimated one ungulate gets caught each year for every 2.5 miles of fence.

Mortality rates are increased to one ungulate death for every 1.2 miles of fence by the indirect deaths of fawns found dead next to fences but not entangled. The dead young were likely separated from their mothers when they could not cross the fence, according to researchers.  

The majority of ungulates become tangled in the top wires while trying to jump the fence. That may be what happened to this badly tangled animal, but its legs are wrapped into both the top and bottom strands of wire.

A 2015 guide from the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation offers advice to ranchers who want to build more wildlife-friendly fences.

A diagram of how to build an ungulate-friendly fence, from a 2015 handbook for landowners by the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. This reminds me of why it’s too bad that our state legislature works to undo counties’ attempts to require wildlife-friendly fencing. How controversial can that be, especially here in Teton Co where the word is out on the multiple ways we can have effective fences that also work for wildlife? Scenes like this are heartbreaking and unnecessary.

  2. Wire barrier fencing, as Woven Wire, dual stranded Barbed and Barbless, smooth single strand High Tensile, and all types of DC Electrified cordage and wires, will continue to be problematic as Human installed barriers to either contain or forbid trespass to Livestock, Wildlife (on legs or Wing) and Humans! What is imperative is to try and mitigate some of the impact and entanglement dire issues this “ENTANGLED” news by WyoFile shows. VISIBILITY of a wire barrier, to be detected at a great distance, is imperative to notify detection of all wire or cordage barriers to avoid contact. MOTION detection that is coupled directly with VISIBILITY is addressed at my published research blog at http://WWW.FENCEFLAGWOLFTRAINING.COM. In short, cost effectiveness and labor to install and maintain barrier fences, continues to be a deciding factor, as there is no perfect solution to 100% solve barrier fence dire consequence issues. “Murphy’s Law’ is forever present with barrier fencing!! DJK

  3. All fences on Wyoming State Land and federally managed public lands should be mandated to meet the wildlife friendly fence recommendations suggested by the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation.